Richard Altschuler & Associates, Inc.


Matthew Goldstein
Chancellor, The City University of New York
July 2005

“Telling the truth is one of the foremost principles of good government.”
“The moment you are elected you are supposed to serve the public, not the other way around.”
“Credibility and honesty really do count in politics, government, and most assuredly in life.”

After three decades of public service within the contentious world of New York City politics, Peter Vallone seems to have learned a lot more than simply how to govern.

Flip through the pages of this book, and you’ll find observations on public life that provide a refreshing antidote to the cynicism that so often seems ready to engulf politics in America. As the former New York City Council Speaker makes clear in the fascinating stories that follow, the lure of public service was, for him, the chance it offered to make a positive difference in the future of the city he loves. Indeed, for Vallone such service is a responsibility. As he says in his preface, “What a waste our lives would be if we neglected the opportunity to make our world a better place, or never even tried.”

That sentiment perfectly expresses the Peter Vallone I know: passionate, sincere, energetic, optimistic—and a fighter. As he recounts his early years in borough politics in Queens and his work on the City Council through three mayoral administrations, one begins to understand that public service married his love of New Yorkers’ causes and clashes to his sense of idealism and justice, bringing together compassion and fairness, compromise and conviction, power and humility. He reminds us that, in the end, politics should be about people, the values they hold, and, always, the importance of telling the truth.

His embrace of this city began with a nearly idyllic boyhood in Astoria, and his recounting of those roots—family dinners, public schools, summer jobs—resonates with all of us who have grown up with parents grateful for the chance to find the American dream in America’s greatest city. He tells our stories even as he tells his, and we can follow the direct line he draws from that history to his fervent commitment to the city’s public schools, parks, libraries, and neighborhoods—and, most important, to the immigrants who developed and continue to nurture this city. His remembrances are most passionate and poignant when they recall his father (the man who taught him the most about politics) and the faith that was nurtured in those early years, a faith that has sustained him and has led to his deep respect for the mosaic of religious beliefs in New York City. It is in his most personal recollections that we see vividly the earnest optimism that is at the heart of any great civic leader.

But the pragmatist is never far behind. Peter understands New York City politics as few people do, and his store of detail makes the very human drama of elections, budgets, and governance come alive. In these pages, we are able to sit across from someone who has been a key player in behind-the-scenes discussions and decisions and hear frank talk about the relationships, principles, and personalities that have shaped the city for the past few decades. Who else could speak as directly and knowledgably about the battle to eliminate the Board of Estimate, the soothing of racial tensions in Brooklyn, and the efforts to lower crime on subways and in neighborhoods? He has had a unique vantage point from which to view the style and substance of three New York City mayors, Ed Koch, David Dinkins, and Rudy Giuliani, and his insights are as revealing as they are judicious.

Because of Peter’s deep belief in the power of public education, it was inevitable that our paths would cross. My work with him on behalf of The City University of New York (CUNY) disclosed the same man whose personality leaps from the pages of this book: decent, funny, practical, strategic, tenacious, and absolutely committed to the best possible future for all New Yorkers. Today, thanks to the New York City Council and its leadership, nearly 34,000 CUNY students with “B” averages or better have benefited from the council’s Peter F. Vallone Academic Scholarship Program. It is indicative of the forward-thinking, community-based work for which Peter is celebrated.

Peter Vallone has secured a place in New York City history—one can’t imagine the city without him—and his plea for civic involvement and responsibility should be heeded by all of us who hope for a bright future for the city and, indeed, the country. His is the authentic voice of a New Yorker who loves this city and its people and who cherishes New York’s role as a beacon of hope to those still seeking the American dream. His contributions to the city make for a remarkable read, to be sure, but perhaps even more important, they restore our faith that in the right hands, public service is, as he says, “a noble profession.”

Matthew Goldstein
Chancellor, The City University of New York
July 2005

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